Pakistan President Zardari's nine political lives
There were predictions in the last few months of 2009 that Pakistan's President Zardari was finished. But he has defended himself aggressively in recent days and won back some political ground.
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Retaliatory terrorist attacks have killed more than 600 people since Pakistan launched a military offensive this fall against the Pakistani Taliban in South Waziristan. The South Waziristan operation and a similar offensive in the Swat valley earlier this year were possible largely because the civilians and military worked together, swaying public opinion.Skip to next paragraph
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In a series of pugnacious speeches and pronouncements since Dec. 27, Zardari has said that democracy in Pakistan is in danger, without spelling out the source of the threat.
“Whether it’s an internal conspiracy against democracy or external conspiracy against Pakistan, we will fight them with the support of the masses,” he said in a speech Saturday.
Many members of Pakistan’s military establishment despise Zardari for his past alleged corruption and for interfering in sensitive security policy since he was elected last year. Given that the last period of military rule ended only in 2008 and had become deeply unpopular, the army is thought to be wary of seizing power again. The chief military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, didn’t return calls seeking comment.
The Supreme Court appeared to deal the final blow to Zardari last month when it ruled that an amnesty that had ended pending corruption cases against the president and some ministers was unconstitutional.
After the court verdict Dec. 16, however, no one resigned from the government, and Zardari's political party decided to fight the graft charges in the courts. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who some speculated could be separated from Zardari, leaped to the defense of the president.
Zardari also got strong backing from the leader of the Awami National Party, which runs the provincial government in Pakistan's insurgency-plagued North West Frontier Province. In recent days, three of the four provincial parliaments passed resolutions in favor of the president.
Crucially, opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, whom a military coup ousted from his post as prime minister in 1999, hasn’t called for Zardari’s resignation and has warned against unconstitutional moves. “Our problems are the gift of dictatorship,” Sharif said Wednesday.
“The politicians as a whole are behaving very maturely,” said Ayaz Amir, a member of parliament with Sharif’s party, the Pakistan Muslim League-N. “It’s because of the perception on the part of the political class that if the (democratic) system goes, then everything goes down the drain.”
(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent.)
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